Tuesday, January 13, 2009

San Fran Drivers

I have been noodling something since I moved back to California. I have been wondering why, at least here in San Francisco, there seems to be a total disconnect between actual traffic laws, commonly known standard driving practices and the way that these are interpreted and applied here in San Francisco. As I recently had to take my written test to be awarded a California Driver's license (and as aside, I look like an oopma-loompa in my picture - - for some reason I am entirely orange tinted - - sort of like Magda in "There's Something About Mary") - perhaps I am a little more aware of the actual laws, since I did study for my exam.

Still, one would think that generally common sense would apply to most driving situations, but that appears to be absent here. A few examples:

  1. San Franciscans are flummoxed by stop signs. Oddly, I have always thought stop signs were simple. Big Red Sign. Stop, and I mean completely stop, look all ways and proceed with caution. The SF application means, see big red sign - - sort of pause and continue driving. There's no need to look any where - - just keep your eyes straight ahead, it takes less time. This makes crossing the street for pedestrians kind of tricky - but hey this is California, so if you get hit, you just sue the driver for a cool few million and then also sue the government for not painting the sign red enough.
  2. San Franciscans are outright CONFUSED by four-way or three-way stop signs. Again, easy enough. Come up to the stop sign. Note who is already there or approaching. Person there first gets to go - - if you all arrive at the same time - - yield to the right. I would like to add at this juncture that there are about a bazillion stop signs in SF. We like stop signs more than we like traffic lights, so the daily application of navigating them is significant. You'd think they'd get it right. Hell NO! It's a friggin free for all. Either someone is overly aggressive (i.e. applying the skills of #1 "pause and proceed") or they are so confused by the other cars and the progression of who goes first, that they just sit there until you either honk your horn or frantically wave at them from in your car. I have tried the giving-up-in-exasperation technique and just proceeding, but dollars to donuts, as soon as you move off the mark, they also start to go. Is it just a game?
  3. San Franciscans do not have any idea what the lever is to the left of the steering column. IT IS A TURN SIGNAL FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE. Know it. Use it. And, more importantly, if you do use it - - use it to signal the actual way you are turning. You know - - left for left, right for right. Oh, and when someone has their signals on - it means that they are GOING to turn. Sheeeeesh~
  4. San Franciscans always have the right of way. Example. You are driving on a road. A parked or standing car is blocking your lane. Common sense would indicate that you should slow down, or at least look to see if there is either on-coming traffic coming towards you in the open lane, or if you are on a one-way street or 4 lane road, you should look before changing lanes. Nope. That's not the way it works. In SF, if there is something in your way, you immediately enter the other lane - regardless of whether it is occupied - - you shift to the right or left as if some magical lane modifier were there. The vehicle in the other lane, must somehow anticipate this magical lane shift and also swerve to avoid striking the car that is avoiding the obstacle in the lane. It's as if they think that the whole damn road just bends to their wills. Fascinatingly dangerous.
  5. San Franciscans believe that changing lanes on a Freeway can be done the absolute moment the spirit moves them. See #3 - - turn signals are not used. The rear view mirror is a place to check to see if your sun glasses, or lipstick is applied properly. It is not a tool to be used to look behind you for approaching traffic. Side view mirrors just make the car look cool. You don't use these either. If you are in the far left lane and want to exit within the next 50 yards -- just head on over there - you can make it!!! Whenever I hear of an accident on one of SF freeways, I am never amazed. I am far more shocked that there isn't a 10 car pile-up every single moment of every single day.

I know that there is more to say about this, but just writing it down makes me crazy. Not too long ago, I witnessed the strangest and most confounding thing. A minivan (nuff said right there, but I will continue) paused at a stop sign right in front of me. At the next light I sidled up to said minivan where the driver was talking on her cell phone (yes this is illegal in SF). Simultaneously, she was checking her make-up in the rear view mirror and wildly gesticulating along with her obviously important conversation. At the next light I was in front of her. When I checked her out in the rear view mirror, she was still talking on the phone but now squeezing a zit on her forehead. Yeesh. And finally, when I checked my rear view mirror again between the next two lights, her van was still moving forward, but SHE WAS COMPLETELY MISSING. The driver's seat was empty as far as I could tell. A couple of seconds later, she popped up. She must have been looking for something in the passenger side floor well. Her mascara? Her cell phone? Her brain????

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